Monday, December 20, 2010

Arapawa Sheep.

Photo Betty Rowe from Rare Breeds website

New Zealand has a variety of now rare feral sheep such as Pitt island, Chatham, Arapawa, Hokanui, and several others originating from domesticated sheep left on some of the islands or escaped to remote parts of the country in the 1800’s. Many of these seem to have had a merino background, plus probably genetics from other sheep breeds as well brought over to this country.
Over the sheep generations, the hardy survivors shrank in size, reverted back to coloured wool, became cautious as they were hunted by man, and browsed on whatever vegetation was available. Their story is remarkable in that their evolution has gone backwards from domestication to a primitive breed type surviving on their own.
The Arapawa sheep numbered about 20 when it was saved from total eradication from the island by a lady from Picton called Betty Rowe who set up a sanctuary in the 1970’s to preserve the tiny gene pool. The offspring from these few sheep now number over 1,000 and are spread around NZ. Photo by Betty Rowe from Rare Breeds website

There are mixed views on the quality of the fleece. These sheep will self shed their fibre although generally breeders do shear their sheep. From the small pile of fleeces I have, there is a variety of qualities in even a single fleece. The raw greasy fleece was relatively uninspiring to look at, and mine needed further skirting and sorting. It was softer than I expected. Photo Trotter/McCulloch from Rare Breeds website
Although the sheep look brown in the photos there is no moorit colouring and the fibre is predominantly dark with sun bleached tips (giving it a brown cast), but some of the fleece is patched and spotted with light coloured fibre. The lamb fleeces are the darkest.
Here are the characteristics I’ve observed in my fleeces:-

1. Variable length, with the longest staples being up to 8cms, although most are much shorter. Disorganised staples. These fleeces have been sheared from the animals so are complete although quite lightweight.
2. Colour is predominantly dark brown/grey although it appears dark brown in the grease (the lamb’s fibre were probably nearly black) with some white patches on some of the fleeces. The tips are faded to caramel and tan.
3. Relatively greasy but the wax washed out easily in a hot wash with soap flakes.
4. The clean fibre bulked up when dry.
5. The handle was bouncy like a down breed with a crisp feel. The crimp is disorganized but apparent and finely corrugated.
6. The fibres were too short to flick or hand comb but the fleece was fairly clean of vegetable matter and was easy to open prior to carding.
7. It went through the carder easily and made uniform batts after two passes. The fleece hand cards into rolags nicely too.
8. Easy to spin into a woollen style yarn. Spinning a fine thread was effortless. Once washed the skein puffed up into a light bouncy yarn with tweed type colours from the light sun-faded tips and white patches in the original fleece.

I plan to spin and weave with the bulk of the fibre and turn it into light woollen finished fabric. Some of the yarn I’ll definitely save for knitting. The handle on the finished knitted fabric is bouncy and elastic but not as soft as modern day Merino. It should wear well and will be resilient much like the sheep it came from. I'm now sampling the yarns.
If you want to try a sample of fleece leave a comment below with your contact details and I’ll send you some.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Illusion knitting and some Suri fleece prep part 1.

A knitted illusion shawl, this is what you see from viewing the side.

But facing the piece flat on, the design disappears.
This project captivated me and I just couldn’t put it down, even though the knitting requires care and attention on every other row. I’ve been intrigued by the woolly thoughts website for a while and in Steve Plummer’s illusion knitting designs. He has created several Harry Potter film character portraits and so I decided to have a go at ‘Hagrid’ in Flagstaff alpaca 8ply.

I’m also preparing several white Suri fleeces which I may send away for further processing once I’ve decided what I want to do with them, blending etc?
I going to wash it all myself and so have opened up the dirty locks prior to washing. It’s always amazing the dirt that gets trapped right inside each lock. It is fiddly to pull the locks apart, but white Suri is quite difficult to get completely clean without doing this.
These are quite fine micron fleeces with up to 15cms long staples. The twist in the lock traps the dust and holds onto it. Even dirty, these fleeces have a lovely lustre.

To decide on a blend (and I do also love to spin 100% suri) I’ve carded 60g of the washed suri with 20g of 21micron merino and 20g of silk.
The suri qualities are dominating this blend. I may try a blend with more silk and/or more merino. I have a limited amount of this lovely white suri so would like to stretch it as far as possible. There will be about 3-4 kilos of suri after washing.
I picture a few cones of this lustrous fine 3ply weight yarn sitting on my shelf waiting to be woven. Maybe natural dyeing some of it this summer.

On the loom is a 50/50 blend of suri and huacaya 2ply yarn sett at 20dpi. These are some scarves for two alpaca breeders who have had the yarn commercially spun. I have no fear of the warp breaking as the yarn is soft but strong and lovely. Can’t wait to finish threading and weave with it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The neighbourhood.

I was going to put some fibre content on this post, but....... I found these recent pictures instead. This is the normal state of the beach we regularly wander along. I know horrible is'nt it? Always so crowded. Bet you'd hate to have this as your local beach?
How do we stand living here?
We put up with it. The neighbours are so close...................
And there's just no view.............................

The cat's not that impressed either.........................

Still I have the plenty of this fibre in my woolshed ready to wash and spin.

I love the ears on this one, lovely hair cut. Aint they pretty. Now the weather is getting warmer it's definitely time to give me your coats...... my favourite time of the year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Alpaca Expo

On the 8th, 9th and 10th of October I enjoyed some time at the National Alpaca Expo in Christchurch. Surrounded by 300 plus alpacas from all around the country. I didn't manage to take many photos being busy on our stand but there were some of the top genetics present and a fabulous show of prize winning fleeces.
These young Suri's awaiting their time in the ring. What I like about NZ shows is the fact the animals appear in their natural 'paddock' state. No washing, brushing primping for these girls and boys.
More patient pacas.
This was a relatively small class compared to the white huacaya classes where there is a lot of competion. There were some gorgeous blacks too.
Our stand. Trade sites were very sparse and few here so we had a prime spot near the showring. In the quiet periods I got my spinning wheel out and enjoyed the judging.
These two were awaiting their time in the ring looking very calm and collected (owner's too).
Before leaving I had piles of skeins to split, reskein and label. This takes longer to do that dye each one it seems. Always lots of last minute jobs to do.
Plus a skein or two languishing in the dyepots and then onwards to the shop. I love seeing the liquid in the pot go completely clear as all the colour is sucked into the fibre. I then reuse the dyepot again and again only topping up with fresh water as the liquid levels drop. Being on a tank water supply I try to use as little water as possible and recycle as much as I can.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Posy Blankie

Just finished this baby blanket made with Flagstaff 8ply alpaca. I bought cream yarn and dyed the five colours semi-solid so that they have some shading. It's actually easier to dye this way than flat even colour which requires a lot more attention and time bringing the temperature up slowly so the colours don't streak.
I designed the centre of the square so that it looks like a wild rose flower and finished it as a granny square with the usual treble groups. The squares are joined as you go on the last double crochet (UK) and chain round. I prefer this to sewing the squares together.
The project was perfect for taking to work as I could do most of the square without taking the whole blanket with me and finish the green rounds at home.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

End of a blog holiday

Although I haven't been either motivated or had much time to blog recently I'm still doing lots of fibre related things. So firstly some examples of the dyeing for both the 'Tote' shop and Flagstaff Alpacas. The picture above is a new colourway 'Ribbon' in 4ply 100% alpaca.
Then one of my favourites - 'Poison'. It's not the quickest to do as there are four colour to paint onto the skein and all of them are mixed, blended colours so it takes a little while to make up the colours. again on 4ply alpaca.
100g of 4ply alpaca in 'Fiesta' which is always a popular colourway. We do most of these colours in the boucle alpaca too and 8ply.
The boucle always comes out looking a little paler, than it does on the smoother yarns.
Above - another new colourway on the 4ply "Stormtrooper'. Olive, teal and dark blue with grey.
Our yarns are also available to purchase on the Flagstaff website. I'm dyeing more repeatable colours by recording the dye colours and how they are applied to the skeins. There are always some skeins which are unique and non repeatable but these are now coded NR.
The yarn sales have grown a lot over the last two years, with customers from both home and away overseas. So thank you if you have bought some and are using it. The alpacas are growing plenty more fibre. All these yarns are grown and spun in Otago. We are so fortunate to still have the Milton spinning mill operating despite the recession.
I'm so grateful my husband added a roof to the deck as I've been able to dye through a cold wet winter this year although they take several days to dry on the dull rainy days.

Below - I've been playing with network drafting on the dobby loom. I'm not too sure about this sample but it is an interesting technique which I plan to do a lot more when I can find some more playtime.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lots of dyeing

Lots more yarns rewound and labelled for the shop. Some of them are even repeatable (up to a point) as colourways. I actually wrote them down as I dyed the colours. The 'retail' ready skeins take ages to prepare so I can understand dyers choosing not to do this additional step in the process.
So to clear the palate I'm weaving lots of cream alpaca for a commission. a 2ply alpaca yarn that is very soft and gorgeous.
And.... some one colour, semi solid dyeing. This is more time consuming than the multicolour skeins strangely enough as I'm trying to get the colour fairly flat and saturated and not too streaky.
The red is balled up ready to go, two box loads of this colour amounting to about 19 kilos in just the red. The colour is actually darker than the photo suggests. No wonder my arms are tired. All handspun (not mine), just dyeing this load was enough work for me. Next stop is off to a weaver in the North Island.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My first projects on the Dobby loom

Did I say I love this loom.
It has taken me a little while and with some assistance to get this loom into full functioning mood.
A learning curve as I've had to learn what the different mechanisms do without the written instructions. But with a few adjustments, it is up and weaving. So I took a dyed skein of alpaca and wound a warp for two shawls on my warping wheel.The AVL warping wheel is a piece of equipment that makes warping a real pleasure. A while ago I converted the back beam on the Ashford Jack loom to a sectional warp beam so that warping by myself would be easier. The wheel allows you to wind the warp from only one cone or more as desired and you can design the warp as you go which appeals to me.
Although the Dobby loom has an ordinary back beam it was still nice to wind the warp chains on the wheel, they stayed very tidy and all the same tension and length.As my first foray into eight shafts, I threaded a straight eight shaft twill.
The first shawl is woven with a cream weft and I chose a variation on a straight twill lift for the dobby lags.
The warp is a hand painted skein which I call 'Glacier' as I leave a third of it cream when I dye it, and the blue reminds me of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the West coast.
The dobby mechanism has a neat little box useful for hiding tools inside, like threaders.

And look.... nothing by the weaver's feet but two neat pedals, and a roll of woven fabric.

The second shawl weft is a handyed blue. The shawls are nearly done and I'm very happy with how this loom works. Can't wait to put a new warp on.
The loom was made by Jim Mecchia in 1983, sturdy, functional and beautiful.

Friday, May 28, 2010

New Things

What have I been doing recently, other than going to work. Well I had a trip to Queenstown ro pick up a 48" dobby mecchia loom. We dismantled it and brought it back to Oamaru and put it back together the same evening whilst it was all fresh in our minds. A few days later I began winding a warp onto the back beam. I need to fiddle about a bit with the heddles and have coloured them for each shaft (8 shafts) to make threading easier. However I have a warp of alpaca to go on to the Jack loom to complete some commission work so the mecchia will have to wait a bit longer but it's good to have a warp on it ready to go.
Also here's a peek inside my newly printed book commissioned and selling well for the Creative Fibre Society. A huge amount of work, so if you get to see a copy be gentle with any criticism. It aint perfect and it is based on my personal experiences with alpaca and llama fibre, so I acknowledge that your experiences will be different, and I'm sure there was a lot more I could have added, changed etc.
The best bit of the whole process of writing this book has involved all the sampling and playing with fibre.
And I still love this wonderful fibre and yarn.

The kittens are now 6 months old. Sophie, the little tabby is very much an indoor cat and very sweet and gentle. Ash is extremely playful and loves the garden and climbing all over my looms which I'm trying to discourage.
Every evening they sleep curled up together.